Touch is a Touchy Topic: Conclusion

You can read the introduction here.

So, to sum up this series:

– I wanted to make a space for talking about mixed and negative experiences with nonsexual touch
– I talked about compulsory hugging
– I talked about how complicated touch is with my parents
– I talked about being indoctrinated with the ‘everyone needs touch’ meme
– I talked about unlearning that meme
– I talked about how some people present asexuals as being very touchy-feely to legitimize asexual relationships, or even to assert that asexuals are ‘like everyone else’

As Aqua points out in their submission, nonsexual touch is devalued and erased in favor of sexual activity. Aqua suggests that this is why the ethics of nonsexual touch are less developed than ethics of sex. I agree with Aqua. As I wrote this series, I found that discussion of consent in nonsexual touch is way, way, way less developed than discussion of consent in sexual situations. That is not to say there isn’t still a lot of work needed in the realm of sexual ethics, but I do think the discussion of ethics in nonsexual touch is so far behind because nonsexual touch is devalued.

This series has been more difficult to write than any other set of posts on this blog so far.

I think that’s partially because I was already confident in my asexuality when I started this blog, so I skipped writing ‘does this mean I am asexual, does it mean I’m not, am I grey-asexual, WHAT DOES THIS ALL MEAN!’ type posts (there is nothing wrong with posts like that, I simply was no longer in a place to write about that when this blog started). Also, I generally tend to write about ideas which have been chewed on by a lot of other people, so composing my own comments generally requires not so much effort.

But for this series I did not find so many pre-existing discussions of the ideas I wanted to discuss – which meant I had to do more digesting myself. I had to do more introspection than I generally do for this blog, and I had to analyze my observations more carefully.

I hope this will make things easier for other people who want to discuss these ideas, even if they disagree with me.

More than most things I post on this blog, this series consists of ‘notes which do not fit’. When I picked that title for this blog, I thought of this blog as being a place where I would put thoughts which wouldn’t appear or fit anywhere else. I don’t always live up to that – after all, people tend to mimic each other’s thoughts – but this time, I think I did fulfil that purpose.


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Touch is a Touchy Topic: Touchiness and Asexuality

You can read the introduction here.

Most of what I know about asexuality has come from reading blogs on WordPress, Blogspot, and to a lesser extent, Tumblr. Most of what I’ve read about touch reinforced the messages I had learned in school: that touching is good, that we all need it, and that we all want it, though online ace blogging imprinted this message on me less than my schooling.

I have been more shielded from compulsory sexuality than many other aces. I’ve never felt broken because I was asexual, and not having sex and not wanting sex has always seemed natural to me. In particular, I never felt obligated to have sex.

I now realize that I have, on some level, felt obligated to engage in touch.

Several of the contributors to this month’s carnival of aces about nonsexual touch have discussed how kissing/cuddling/hugging/etc. are often framed as a substitute for sex in close ace relationships. It’s something we might do instead of The Sex. On a deeper level, emphasizing how much aces like affectionate touch in their close relationships is … well, I’m going to quote Ace in Lace “Likewise the touch-averse aces do not have the enjoyment of platonic touching to humanize them, and may be alienated by such humanizing-attempts.” Many people associate being sexual with being human, therefore asexual = less human, so some aces subconsciously redefine ‘being human’ and being touchy-feely, and then presents aces as being touchy-feely to ‘rehumanize’ us (some day, I am going to have to write about the problems with ‘humanizing’ and using ‘being human’ as the gold standard of whether an entity is worthy of dignity and respect, but that will have to wait).

In a way, it is the assimilationist impulse vs. the liberationist impulse – “Aces are just like everyone else” vs. “Aces are not just like everyone else”.

I am not touchy-feely; on the other hand, I am not touch-averse either. If I got into a close relationship, and my partner wanted to touch me a lot AND had respect for my boundaries AND communicated well with me, I don’t think it would be hard to find a mutually-satisfying arrangement. What I’m averse to is people touching me without permission or insisting that I must touch because touching is good for me.

During the many months I have been pondering about touch (I have been doing it for at least a year) and now as I am writing these posts, I am unlearning the ‘need’ to touch which I hadn’t before realized was learned in the first place.

I end with this: we should not replace compulsory sexuality with compulsory touchfulness. I am happy for the people who love physically touching other people and who get the touch their desire. But affectionate touch should never be presented as a ‘replacement’ for sex, and it should not be used to justify the legitimacy of our relationships, or to demonstrate that we are ‘human’.

The next post will wrap up this series.


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My New Blog: S.K. in S.K.

I have finished travelling, but I have not finished writing about travelling, and I have a lot to stay after spending almost eleven months travelling.

I decided it’s time to start a new blog. So I have.

*drumroll*

S.K. in S.K. – Sara K. in South Korea

I will put all of my writing and photos about travelling in South Korea there. I kept a paper journal while I was travelling around Japan, but I didn’t do that in South Korea, so I want to write about it first while my memories are fresh. After I’m done writing about South Korea, I’ll think about if and where I would post writing about travelling in Japan.

In any case, if you are interested in South Korea, or in my travels, or if you are just wondering how somebody could spend more than two months in South Korea, check it out!

Touch is a Touchy Topic: Do I Crave Physical Touch?

You can read the introduction here.

I have heard about people craving people needing physical touch so much that I believed that I must crave it too.

I am re-examining that.

The most obvious physical needs I feel are the need for water, food, and sleep. Though there is a lot of variation in how I experience thirst, hunger, and sleep-deprivation, if I go too long without water/food/sleep, I will feel it, and it won’t be subtle.

On the next level, there is my need for exercise. It doesn’t belong in the same category as water/food/sleep – I don’t think a sedentary lifestyle would kill me nearly as quickly as dehydration/starvation/severe sleep deprivation – but it’s clear to me that I really do need a minimal level of exercise, and it’s not something I merely think I need because I’ve been fooled by pro-exercise propaganda.

I have concluded that I don’t have sexual needs, even though lots of people are convinced that everybody needs sex.

So … do I also have a need for physical touch, or was I only convinced I needed physical touch because other people said so?

Well, in Taiwan, when I told myself that I wasn’t getting enough physical contact with people, I decided to remedy this with massages.

When I’m thirsty and I drink water, I experience immediate relief

When I’m hungry and I eat food, I experience immediate relief.

When I’m sleep-deprived and I sleep, the relief isn’t immediate, but it’s evident and refreshing.

When I have been repressing the urge to exercise, and then get to burn off some of that energy, I feel much calmer afterwards.

When I hadn’t been touching people for a while, and then get a massage … I feel nothing.

I’ve repeated this a few times.

I can only think of two explanations:

1) I don’t need physical touch
2) I do need physical touch, but commercial massages do not fulfil this need at all

I am not sure which explanation it is, but I have at least concluded that I don’t need physical touch nearly as much as I need exercise, and that my notion of needing physical touch was, if not totally fabricated, then at least exaggerated by other people claiming that we all need physical touch.

I once thought that I *should* have more physical touch, and since the massages didn’t seem to have much of an effect, that I *should* have more of it in more personal relationships.

Now, when I poke at the evidence that people put forth for ‘physical touch is healthy and you don’t get enough’, I find that the evidence is really flimsy. For example, this blog post says “most people desire or require touch and affection on a regular basis … touch helps keep you healthy and happy. (Don’t believe me? The National Institutes of Health says so)”. Yet the article it links to support the ‘the National Institutes of Health’ claim is about oxytocin and says “few studies look at oxytocin in humans” i.e. we are not entirely sure about the effects of oxytocin. I think that is way overstretching for a claim like ‘The National Institutes of Health says most people require touch on a regular basis’ – especially since the article cannot find any effect on blood pressure or stress hormone levels in men (aren’t men, you know, a large portion of the population?!).

So right now, I say ‘whatever’! If I feel like touching AND receive permission, I’ll do it. If I don’t feel like it or don’t get permission, I won’t. I’m going to stop telling myself that I need more touch just because other people say I need it.

And on that note, I will get back to the topic of asexuality in the next post.


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Touch Is a Touchy Topic: the Idea [if man + woman, then touch is sexual] Is Damaging

You can read the introduction here.

I once had a lot of physical touch with my dad, starting with when he would me hold me in his arms as a baby.

However, it was always clear to me that this was optional. I was confident that, if I said that I didn’t want it, he would respect that. I cannot remember any specific instance of refusing touch from him, but it must have happened, and he must of respected it.

As a little girl, I was totally unaware of sex, let alone that anyone might consider a man touching a little girl to be sexual, so that was not a concern for me. I am glad that didn’t hold my dad back either, at least in the privacy of our home.

I have a feeling that my mother is envious of how my dad managed to have the touch-ful relationship with me that she wanted for her self. My hypothesis is that my mother wanted me to be a certain way (in this case, provide lots of affectionate touch), whereas my dad just let me be, which is why I felt more comfortable with my dad, and ironically more willing to engage in physical touch with him.

Of course, I grew up, and became aware of sex, and the tendency in our culture to associate any kind of physical touch between females and males with sex. And of course, as I became biologically capable of reproduction, it probably became harder for my dad to disassociate physical touch with me from sexual connotations. And we gradually touched each other less and less.

But it didn’t stop completely. Even when I was in my last year of college, my dad would still brush my hair on a regular basis, just as he had when I was a little girl.

And then I went to a different continent.

And then I came back.

And he hasn’t brushed my hair since.

I haven’t asked him to brush my hair. I don’t know how he would react … but I feel it would be too awkward to ask. Maybe it’s as simple as him not wanting to brush my hair. But I can’t help but suspect that heterosexual norms are interfering. Why else would we stop something we both liked (though my dad might not like brushing my hair, I’m pretty sure he likes some forms of affectionate touch)?

I think this is an example of how heteronormativity and the assumption that anything which could be sexual is sexual (one could also question whether consensual sexual touch between a parent and adult child is wrong, but since I don’t want sexual touch, I won’t go there). If there was a wider acceptance of non-sexual physical touch, it might be easier to negotiate physical touch with my dad.

Since this is a private matter between my dad and myself, the only attitudes which matter are our own. But I have definitely internalized the sense that trying to pursue non-sexual touch with my dad is shameful because non-sexual touch is actually sexual touch when a woman does it with a man, and I think it’s a good bet that my dad has internalized something similar. And even if I address this attitude within myself, I don’t dare damage my relationship with my dad by trying to address his internalized attitudes. I don’t want to risk it.

And yet, this attitude itself has already damaged the relationship.

In the next post, I will talk about my experiences of craving touch (or not).


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Touch Is a Touchy Topic: Hugging is for Others, Not for Me

Since I established the theme for this month’s carnival of aces, I have already received two comments about people who have received unwanted non-sexual touch from people in the family: here and here.

I haven’t had a problem with this with my dad’s side of the family. My mom’s side of the family … well, they have a habit of kissing me on the lower cheek, which I’ve never liked. I can forgive relatives who I see less often since I don’t expect them to remember my preferences, and for all I know, maybe their kids loved getting kisses from them. I am much more irritated when my mom does it, because she does know better. One time my mom kissed me on the cheek and said “I know you don’t like kisses, but you are so cute I can’t help it”. If that were said in a sexual situation…

Anyway, returning to this quote from the previous post:

5. Hugging boosts self-esteem. From the time we’re born our family’s touch shows us that we’re loved and special. The associations of self-worth and tactile sensations from our early years are still imbedded in our nervous system as adults. The cuddles we received from our Mom and Dad while growing up remain imprinted at a cellular level, and hugs remind us at a somatic level of that. Hugs, therefore, connect us to our ability to self love.

First of all, hugging does not boost my self-esteem in the long term. I’ve learned that hugging is a code that somebody does not want to hurt you and is not your enemy, so when somebody sends me the message ‘I don’t want to hurt you’ and ‘I am not your enemy’, it can temporarily boost my self-esteem. But I think, in the long run, it makes it harder for me to practice self-love.

A few weeks ago, my mother declared that I was ‘radioactive’, and that she had to avoid me because I gave her too much stress. I then explained my side of the story, which was basically listing the things she had done to provoke me, and then she said ‘I’m radioactive too’ and that, ultimately, I hadn’t chosen her, and she hadn’t chosen me, and that we are in some ways incompatible. I think this gives you a hint of how difficult my relationship with my mom has often been.

Sometimes, when my mom perceives me as being too difficult, she totally withdraws a self-defence mechanism. This often happens at a time when I am already upset, and having and her totally abandoning me to ‘protect herself’ (i.e. claiming that I am the one hurting her without acknowledging that she or another party might be hurting me) rarely fails to make me feel even more upset.

One of the tactics I have discovered to deal with this situation is this: offer a hug.

As I mentioned in this post, I feel like my mom feels very disappointed that I am not the source of endless affection that I think she hoped for, and a big part of that is that I don’t offer hugs as much as she wants. When I do offer a hug, she wants to stay in it for a long time, because to her, it seems like water in a desert. Thus it has a become a tool I can use to manipulate her in this power-uneven relationship (and yes, though the power-unbalance is not as great as it was when I was a little girl, it is still in her favor).

So why haven’t I wanted to hug my mother more often? When I was much younger, she would pressure me a lot more to engage in hugging. Eventually, she gave up, but the impression had already made when I was very young that hugging was something my mother wanted to make me do even if I didn’t want it. Afterwards, I would only offer to hug my mother when I felt I was backed into a metaphorical corner, which felt like indirect coercion to me because I would feel (even if not necessarily true) that my mother was the one who backed me into the corner in the first place.

I sometimes initiate hugs with other people, but it is almost always from a place of insecurity. It wasn’t just in elementary school that I was taught that Hugging Is Good and that We Must Hug More – I was also ‘taught’ this in high school and college (though not middle school), and believed it to some extent. I knew hugging was a way to raise my esteem in other people’s perceptions, and to keep friends closer. Even more insidious, I had internalized the message that social expectations were repressing people’s natural inclinations to hug, and that hugging was a way to express our true selves.

This focus on appeasing other people and preventing/diffusing external hostility had a bad effect on my ability to love myself. If you depend on others to validate yourself, even when they do validate you, they can always withdraw, and thus you are never entirely secure.

The least huggy period in my life was the time I spent in Taiwan. It was also the most emotionally stable period in my life. I think this is because I had a greater level of autonomy that I ever had before. It was much easier to avoid situations which would make me feel bad, and I was much less likely to get into a situation where I felt compelled to hug.

I have thought about this much more conciously while writing this post that I ever have before. Tentatively, I want to tell myself that I am never required to hug anybody ever again, and that if I do hug again, it should be in the spirit of giving – a gift from myself to someone who actually likes hugging, with no strings attached. However, I don’t know if I can stick to that committment when I feel emotionally threatened again.

The next post will continue on the theme of family, because family is complicated and there is a lot to say.

Orientation Insecurity; Comments on Heterosexual Jill

Before reading this post, I suggest watching the trailer for the movie Heterosexual Jill (note: trailer depicts a few seconds of non-consexual making out, and contains some mildly sexual content).

Heterosexual Jill Official Trailer

As the trailer suggests, the movie is about how the protagonist, Jill, asserts her heterosexuality in face her sexual attraction to women and desire to have sex with them. It’s a comedy.

This film helped me appreciate just how insecure some lesbians feel in their sexual orientations, and how much they are compelled, both by others and themselves, to perform as heterosexuals. It was something I hadn’t really thought about before.

Jill sometimes punishes other people for her own insecurity. For example, she polices Jamie’s sexual identity, claiming that Jamie isn’t acting like a ‘real lesbian’, to which Jamie’s response can be summarized as ‘I am a lesbian, therefore anything I do is a real way to be lesbian by default’. Jill needs Jamie to be the stereotypical lesbian in her head because, since Jill is definitely not like the sterotypical lesbian in her head, she’s not really a lesbian, right? Jamie’s insistence that there isn’t one particular way to be a lesbian means that *gasp* Jill might be a lesbian after all, and that is something that Jill does not want to accept. Jill abuses Jamie ultimately because Jamie is *supposed* to confirm that Jill is really heterosexual, and Jamie isn’t doing what she’s supposed to do.

Though the focus is on Jill, who is apparently sexually attracted only to women, the movie makes clear that the issue of being insecure about one’s sexual identity is broader than that. For example, there is a minor character who describes finding both women and men to be hot, but she really does not want to be a bisexual because ‘everybody hates bisexuals’, so she is trying ‘to be just a lesbian’.

For that matter, Jamie herself makes some bi-hating comments to her bisexual ex-girlfriend.

Furthermore, there is a character who has a specific sexual repulsion. She’s not repulsed by sex in general, but she reacts negatively to … well, I won’t spoil it. It does undermine her confidence in her sexual identity, and since she presents herself outwardly as being Very Confidently Non-Heterosexual, she tries to cover up this insecurity.

Even though this movie is not about aces, considering how many submissions the Carnival of Aces about the ‘unassailable asexual’ received, it’s obvious that insecurity about sexual identity is a big issue among aces. I think aces in general, particularly aces who struggle with being (or not being) the “unassailable asexual” would benefit from seeing this movie. Besides, it’s hilarious.

Does asexuality come up in the movie? Actually, the word ‘asexual’ (clearly describing the sexual orientation) is used exactly once in the movie. I feel that that angle is not nearly as interesting as the overall theme of how insecurity hurts people, so if someone wants a blog post about it, somebody else is going to have to write it.


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